What’s the World’s Greatest Lie?

It was a tradition of sorts.

In the initial months following my diagnosis, after each doctor’s appointment, I would go to the bar

Given my deteriorating health, maybe a few pints and a plate of fried pickles was not the most constructive response, but sometimes nothing soothes a fractured soul like the warm panel walls, a friendly jukebox and the comfort foods of a corner bar.

I remember sitting with my wife and parents and two brothers, talking through the details of my appointment in low, weighty voices.

We had drinks and ate deep fried vegetables and to snap the tension, someone would say something funny and we’d laugh, but not too loud. Because, now was not the time for laughing loud.  Now was the time to make sense of bad news.

I remember the hallow clinks of pint glasses and finding things to do with my hands– bending coasters, tearing bar napkins into confetti–and feeling helpless and powerless. Like sitting in the last pew at my own funeral.

For awhile I believed there was nothing I could do. It was final–I was stricken with some rare disease. Period. And I remember believing how utterly unfair it was.

If our language confirms what we believe, relying on the phrase “it’s not fair…” cements our belief in the world’s oldest lie, which according to the novel The Alchemist is:

At a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”– from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

A few years ago, a student suggested that I start a blog.

Why?

Because sometimes you say interesting things in class.

Sometimes?

Yeah, sometimes.

Not to go all Hollywood here, but in serious ways this blog, saved my life.

Because I’ve learned that it’s not the bad news that matters, it’s our response that does.

Our self-victimization vexes others to where they will lose patience and tune us out. Their previous pity sours to apathy.

By bemoaning our bad news, we empower our bad news. We waste vital energy needed to command a positive response to conquer such bad news.

And plus, self-victimizers with their bloated bellies of self-pity and self-delusions make for terrible drinking partners.

Be well,

Jay

It’s called “The Alchemist” and you should read it.

If I could have a conversation with my 30 year old self it would go like this:

“It’s called The Alchemist and you should read it.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re 30.  Because you’re foolish. Because you’re playing it safe. Because you think time is your friend. You yearn for the wrong things. You make half-hearted choices. You feel obligated to adopt people’s opinions as your truth because you desperately fear rejection. You want to live the easy life and expect hard-won rewards. You take too much for granted. You’ve failed to understand that all choices, even the small ones, ripple with consequence and even choosing not to choose has consequences. You should read The Alchemist because you’re going to father two more children and you’re going to invest your money into grad school then you’re going to get sick, chronically sick, a sickness will break you physically, test you spiritually and on a cold December day you’ll wring your hands and look into the soft eyes of your children and shut your laptop and dropout of grad school and be more lost then you’ve ever been and it’s only then, as you wade through some of the most draining, exhausting, terrifying hours, days, weeks, months, years that you will learn that discomfort and pain are necessary for growth. That your scars, those jagged stories, knitted with conflict which tattoo your limbs and your internal organs are signs, are omens from a higher power that give your life meaning and purpose.”

My 30 year old self looks down, kicks dust for awhile and as if talking to his toes, “What’s the book again?”

“The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.”

The silence balloons into something big and palpable between us.

30 year old self turns up his eyes, offers that familiar, coy smile only found in photo albums now. He’s young and thin and clueless.

“So this Alchemist book…”, he crosses his arms and leans his shoulders back, “… can I get the Sparknotes.”

The Alchemist is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

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Written by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, the anniversary edition is prefaced with Coelho describing how The Alchemist sold only 1 copy in the first week, how it took 6 months for a second copy to sell (both copies were bought by the same person!) to selling more then 65 million copies and translated into 80 different languages, a Guinness Record for most translated book by a living author.

The premise of The Alchemist is simple: A poor sheep herder, Santiago, decides to sell his flock to go questing across the Arabic dessert for a treasure supposedly located near the pyramids of Egypt.

Of course, what he learns about himself, about life and happiness and love and truth on the journey are more valuable then any extravagant treasure he could find.

Why am I such a fan?

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Because Coelho implores a very simple, parabolic style to tell Santiago’s story, which is essentially the story of humankind.

It’s about decision making.

It’s about following your dreams.

It’s choosing to live a life that gives your heart and soul meaning and purpose.

It’s about finding your true self or as Coelho calls it “Personal Legend”

Making a decision, taking action is really hard.

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I always thought the older, more mature I got the easier decision making would be. Not true. In fact, I’m learning the older you get the more things         (money, children, health, job security) there are, the harder decisions become.

As adults, we so fear being wrong. We yearn for the right decision. We foolishly think the right decision will unlock this magical, unicorn life that we dream of.

The Alchemist argues that we can live a good life by avoiding decision making and risk taking.

We can earn money, own a house, raise a family, make friends and host parties. We can have all the magazine comforts of a “good life”. However, the “good life” will always fall short of the one we imagine for ourselves.

This “good life”, the cautious life will always prevent us from achieving our Personal Legend.

And this “good life” will gnaw us, dog us, press us and leave us with a hollow heart that beats and beats and beats as we stagger through a desert life, a life that mercifully ends with our inevitable death.

The Alchemist reminds us it’s the easy path, the lighted and well-worn path that has been traversed by so many souls is the far more dangerous path than the mysterious, unblazoned path.

5 More Takeaways

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  • Every human learns of their destiny as a child. As a child we play, we embrace our passions, however we age and the world’s opinions infiltrate our heart and we abandon our destiny and replace what we really want with what other people want or us.
  • We must be aware of signs/omens. They offer clarity and direction.
  • Our choices have consequences that stretch beyond our knowledge and our life time.
  • Our destiny, our ultimate goal requires endless suffering.
  • Suffering for our destiny is better/more heroic/more rewarding/more badass then living a safe life.

5 Favorite Quotes… (pictures from my book to prove I actually read it and didn’t opt for Sparknotes this time)

The Alchemist’s Call to Action

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Life is a noisy ride. Whether we’re ready for it or not, we will hear everyone’s opinions about ourselves.

If we adopt what other’s think of us as our truths, we will come to hate ourselves. We will live, as the American quote machine Henry David Thoreau described, “a life of quiet desperation.”

The Alchemist’s simple narrative style amplifies the books simple message, no matter the noise, no matter the costs–follow your destiny.

It’s a simple message, one we once understood yet we aged, got comfortable, we vilified change and life’s simple message got twisted in something incredibly complicated.

Be well,

Jay